I used to tell people I hated Miami. I grew out of the party and clubbing scene soon after college and there was nothing there for me at “my age.” (Okay, maybe I didn’t grow out of my party-girl phase until soon-ish after law school, but you get my point)… I wasn’t yearning to visit Miami anytime soon (or ever) again.
I’m typically overeager to hear about my friends’ travels, but before my recent trip, my eyes would glaze over with disinterest and I’d have to catch myself from outwardly looking terribly bored when a weekend getaway to Miami or a bachelorette in South Beach was discussed.
I visited South Beach once… ten years ago. The weekend was a blur of crowded clubs and overpriced cocktails. I left believing that the city lacked any “real” culture and that it didn’t have the types of “attractions” which interested me. Fast forward to this past October, I found myself in Fort Lauderdale for a travel blogging conference and decided I would tack on a couple days in Miami to give the city a half-hearted “second shot.” I figured that if I couldn’t find anything “interesting” to do, I could certainly spend a couple days relaxing at the beach…
I was so wrong.
Miami is oozing with culture. Positively gushing with it, in fact. And by culture, I don’t mean a go-go dancer wearing nothing but body paint in a nightclub. It’s no secret that Miami has the reputation of being a party city and that South Beach’s club scene is unrivaled. But, if your interests lie elsewhere (and the thought of standing in line waiting to get into a club wearing a short skirt and four inch stilettos doesn’t sound appealing), I’ve got you covered.
Here are 3 Reasons to Visit Miami (When You’re Over the Party Scene):
When a local described the Wynwood neighborhood to me as the “Brooklyn of Miami,” I knew I had to check it out. Well-known for its street art and famed Wynwood Walls, the area is also home to awesome microbreweries and top notch restaurants.
Start with The Wynwood Walls to check out the awe-inspiring murals and then stroll the surrounding streets to admire more awesome street art. Once you find yourself parched from the Miami sun, head to Wynwood Brewery for some fruit-infused craft brews. (My favorite was the “Lady Bug Blood” which is a tasty strawberry rubia). Next stroll to Wood Tavern for a cool dive bar atmosphere with tasty $2 tacos and live music. If you prefer wine over beer, try Lagniappe. The Italian wine-bar inspired restaurant has a sprawling patio filled with over 100 mismatched lawn chairs. Take a seat, order a cheese plate and listen to the crooner on stage as you sip your summer rosé.
2. Little Havana.
Where. Do. I. Begin…
Oh, Little Havana, I fell in love with you at first sight (and taste)! How I miss you. I wish you could relocate to Atlanta and be with me on the reg… But, I digress…
So, about Little Havana: you should eat there. You may be thinking, “But Karisa, there are nearly 800 Cuban restaurants in Miami, so why should I bother to trek “all the way out” to Little Havana?” Little Havana is more than just amazing food – it’s jam-packed with Cuban art and culture (and unlike Sublime’s hit 1990s single, some residents do indeed “practice Santeria”).
Tons of Cubans immigrated to Miami seeking the American dream or fleeing communism and settled in the area that is now called Little Havana. Live music, boisterous personalities and dancing like I’ve never seen (and certainly couldn’t even begin to keep up with), the area is a stimulation for the senses! (You must take a stroll through Domino Park).
But, yes… back to the food. How could one wanna-be foodie choose from all the deliciousness in the neighborhood? I couldn’t. So, I didn’t. Instead I signed up for the Little Havana Food Tour with Miami Culinary Tours. I’m no stranger to food tours, but I can state with certainty that this one will not disappoint you, dear readers.
The tour started with a picadillo-stuffed empanada at El Pub, a long-standing Cuban “diner” with pages from a 100 year cookbook plastered on the wall. These weren’t your typical Americanized Applebee’s empanadas – they were delicious. Next, we walked down the block to Cuban Tobacco Cigar Company. Although they aren’t exactly edible, when most people think of Cuba they think of Cuban cigars, so a short stop at this small boutique shop was included on the tour. I’m not a cigar smoker, so I can’t personally vouch for them, but I’m told that this shop makes some of the best cigars in Miami (or perhaps even the world).
Next on the agenda? A traditional Cuban sandwich (yum!) and coffee. I learned that Cuban coffee is not your normal cup of joe, as Ralph, our super enthusiastic, knowledgeable and caffeinated tour guide informed us. For Cubans (and many people who in live in Miami, in general) coffee is an event. Best described as a tiny potent shot of sugar infused espresso, Cuban coffee was just what I needed before heading to Ball and Chain. Established in 1935, this jazz club touted headliners like Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald in its very short-lived heyday. The bar/restaurant/music venue was closed for nearly six decades before reopening last year. Try their famous mojito or, my personal favorite, the spicy Passion Fountaine (tequila, passion fruit puree and jalapeño). The last portion of the tour catered to my sweet tooth. I tasted a deliciously thin and flakey guava pastry from Yisil Bakery, fresh squeezed sugar cane juice from an open air fruteria and Cuban ice cream.
The verdict? The tour was one of the best food tours I’ve been on. Aside from sampling a wide array of Cuban food, Ralph also taught me a ton about Cuban culture, history and art. I’d say the tour is well-worth its $59 price tag and is a Miami must-do. If you’re unable to partake in the tour, whatever you do, don’t leave Miami without a stroll down Calle Ocho and sampling some traditional Cuban food in Little Havana. (FYI – Miami Culinary Tours also offers food tours of South Beach and Wynwood).
3. South Beach’s Art Deco District
As I previously eluded to, South Beach has more to offer than just its party scene. In fact, South Beach is home to the most famous Art Deco district in the world (which is the first 20th century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places). I was dazzled by the over-the-top neon signs and pastel-hued buildings and felt instantly transported back to the 1920s. You can sign up for an Art Deco walking tour or you can trot down Ocean Drive and explore the area on your own.
South Beach is also a fantastic part of town to stay in given its proximity to the beach and great restaurants and shopping. I stayed at the luxury Riviera Hotel while in Miami. The Riviera is a modern and hip boutique hotel situated in a historic Art Deco building. I instantly fell in love with the hotel’s fun, eclectic decor which was a blend of contemporary urban chic and Hollywood regency styles – my suite was stunning! The hotel’s restaurant, Moreno’s Cuba, also has a cool vibe with live music every night of the week and a welcoming outdoor atmosphere resembling a 1950s Havana hideaway.
Among the usual goodies you can expect from a top-notch upscale boutique hotel, the Riviera also provides its guests with complimentary chairs at the beach, daily happy hour drinks from 7pm to 8pm and transportation to the airport. But for me, the Riviera’s gorgeous rooftop pool was the cherry on top.
Would you like to visit Miami? Have you? What else would you add to this list?
Although I was a guest of Riviera Hotel and Miami Culinary Tours, as always, all opinions are my own.
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